Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Did You Know UF/IFAS Has Its Own Weather Network?

By Rick Lusher
The Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN) was established in 1998 in response to the discontinuation of the National Weather Service (NWS) agricultural weather forecast products.  What began as a network of 11 Cooperative Extension Service sites in Lake and Orange counties is now a statewide system of 41 sites located from Homestead to Jay, near Pensacola. Data are collected from each site every 15 minutes and, along with several calculated products and weather-related tools, are delivered to the public by way of the Internet. 
Navigating the Homepage
The FAWN Homepage shows a map of the state of Florida with the current air temperature displayed at each FAWN station, with different shaded areas to show higher (oranges and reds) and lower (greens and blues) values.  There are also links to various data access methods, data products, and tools.   FAWN also posts system status updates via Twitter.

Additional current measurements and a local National Weather Service (NWS) forecast can be viewed by rolling your mouse over the temperature at any station Citra, indicated by the red circle, is shown below.  You can also select different map views by selecting the links to the left of the map, Wet Bulb Temp, for example.

FAWNs mission: provide timely 
and accurate weather data 
to a wide variety of users.

Even More Data
Along the left side of the Homepage, there are several ways to access information.  For example, you can view RADAR images and loops from each NWS Florida RADAR.

You can use Graphic Weather Data to view recent data on a graph, and easily see how temperatures, for example, are changing over time.

If numbers are your thing, you can use Latest Observations to view data from all stations in a table.

Your Weather Toolkit
While FAWN has access to lots of data, we also do a lot of calculations for farmers and homeowners alike.  These can be found in the Tools menu in the green bar at the top of the Homepage.

As you can see above, we have tools for cold protection, irrigation, and climate, as well as several miscellaneous tools.  

All FAWN resources are available free-of-charge at the FAWN websiteIf you are into weather data and weather related information, especially in Florida, FAWN is the place for you.  Thanks for checking out this quick overview, and please be sure to check future blog posts for a more detailed look at our data products and tools. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

On the Leak-sticle Beat With Miami-Dade’s Urban Conservation Unit

In journalist parlance, the listicle is an article written in list form. You’ve probably read a couple in the past few days. Popularized by online publications and an effective means for addressing a variety of topics under a common theme, the listicle is here to stay.

Here at the IrriGator blog we are nothing if not pioneers. So I give you our first attempt at a “leak-sticle,” a listicle about leaks in urban landscape irrigation systems! And for motivating this venture I must acknowledge some colleagues in South Florida.

Will it float? The answer is yes.
Recently, UF/IFAS Miami-Dade’s Urban Conservation Unit (U.C.U.) used Facebook to recap some of the most egregious leaks and breaks they’ve encountered in the field thus far this year. The spectrum (many pictured here) runs from extravagant geysers and sloppy gushers to the subterranean and obscured. In all cases, however, there is a combination of issues that contribute to this kind of system disrepair and water waste. I spoke with the U.C.U. to get additional insight about these top leaks and arrive at some conclusions on how to avoid these kinds of disasters.

Who is the U.C.U.? Jesus Lomeli and Laura Vasquez
Wet Checks – Conduct Them Regularly
A wet check (or walk through) is when you or your irrigation professional turn on the system and walk the irrigated areas to look for leaks, clogs or other irregularities. You cannot do a wet check on a system and miss these colossal breaks!

Wet checks help detect both subtle and more apparent system issues
“This is typical. This is what we see out there,” said Laura Vasquez, FYN Coordinator and U.C.U. member, in reference to the images. “We recommend everyone take time to walk through the system at least once a month and get involved with the maintenance of your system. It’s automated, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to run perfectly every time it turns on.”

Technology – Where Possible, Use It
Smart, wireless and in the cloud - we are all about better living through technology today. So how does this apply to irrigation? With respect to leaks, U.C.U. technician Jesus Lomeli suggests flow sensors.

An example of a wireless flow sensor
“A flow sensor connects to your timer and system mainline and can detect leaks (an imbalance in the flow rate) and will shut off a zone until someone comes to service the break. These work for large property and residential property systems.”

According to Mr. Lomeli, some timers can also send alerts via text or email when the flow sensor notes a problem, so someone is made aware of the maintenance issue. Because, as Mr. Lomeli underscored in our conversation, awareness is critical. 

Curbside appeal? Not exactly
"In most instances with these locations, the property managers were not aware of the leaks, and if they were, there was no hurry to repair things. Some timers were even scheduled to run every day. If this kind of water loss was happening indoors, inside a property, it would have been dealt with immediately.”

Design – Hydrozone and Low Flow
What was starkly obvious to me in this collection of top leak images was the underlying contribution of poor system design. Many of these breaks happened on risers or on high-volume spray heads in shrub and ornamental landscape areas. 

Everything shrubs: an ideal area for drip line irrigation 
This is not the proper way to irrigate such plant life. Shrub areas need to be on their own irrigation zone separate from turf areas (hydrozoning) and should be watered using drip line or micro-sprays (low volume). You can't break a spray head that doesn’t exist.

What even is this image? Water waste!
To Be Continued…
Since these leak images are part of a Facebook album, there are plans to add more as they are gruesomely encountered in the field, providing additional opportunities for everyone to learn from bad management practices.

“So far this program year we’ve seen 89 single family homes and 34 large properties,” Mr. Lomeli said.

Resuscitating your system this summer? Take a lesson from EPA WaterSense
And now that everyone has a renewed interest in irrigation rebates and recommendations in the climbing South Florida temperatures, the U.C.U. is sure to stay in the field and busy into fall.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Meet New Statewide UF/IFAS Master Gardener Coordinator Wendy Wilber

The Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology recently named Alachua County environmental horticulture agent Wendy Wilber statewide coordinator for the UF/IFAS Master Gardener Program.

Center Stage
As is the wont of master gardeners, last week Ms. Wilber was a featured speaker at Disney EPCOT’s International Flower and Garden Festival. To audiences throughout the day, she instructed on plant propagation - demonstrating several resourceful and inexpensive methods for multiplying plants.

Wendy Wilber demonstrates how to divide a mondo grass bunch
“People want to learn how to share plants. It’s a great way to keep a special plant growing,” Ms. Wilber said. “Propagation is a topic that gardeners want to know about. It’s a little bit more of an advanced topic, but it’s a good skill for them to have.”

Using color in the landscape at the International Flower and Garden Festival

“Florida is at an interesting time right now, 
and master gardeners are uniquely poised 
to bring good Florida-Friendly landscaping 
information to the public.”
-Wendy Wilber

The Festival
The International Flower and Garden Festival is an annual Disney EPCOT event showcasing landscaping practices for beautification and sustainability. This year features Illuminated Gardens, a butterfly area and over a dozen Disney-themed topiaries scattered throughout.

Yes, you can be colorful and Florida-Friendly
One of more than a dozen Disney-themed topiaries (image by Michael Dukes)
Edibles are a great addition to any Florida garden
Ms. Wilber noted that the event expertly captures the gardening pulse of the moment. “You can always see the trends here at the EPCOT festival. Right now the edible trend is hot. Raise beds. Hydroponics. Those are all featured in the idea and discovery gardens. People can take these ideas back home and if they have problems they can contact their local master gardeners.”